In a setback for Elon Musk’s brain technology company, Neuralink, the device it implanted in its first patient has mechanical problems, the company said in a blog post.

In the weeks following patient Noland Arbaugh’s January surgery, some of the electrode threads embedded in brain tissue began to pull out of that tissue, the company said, causing the device to malfunction.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported the malfunction.

Neuralink said it compensated for this setback through a series of software fixes that “produced a rapid and sustained improvement that has now superseded Noland’s original performance.”

The company said it is currently working on improving text input for the device as well as cursor control — and that it eventually aims to expand its use to physical-world devices such as robotic arms and wheelchairs.

People who work in the field of brain implants said that the complications may have arisen from the fact that the threads connect to a device that resides in the skull bone rather than on the surface of the brain tissue. “One thing that engineers and scientists fail to appreciate is how much the brain moves in the intracranial space,” said Eric Leuthard, a neurosurgeon at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Just a nod of the head or a sudden movement of the head can cause disturbances of a few millimeters.”

Traditionally, surgeons place brain implants directly on the brain tissue itself, where they move “like a boat on water,” said Matt Engle, CEO of rival brain implant company Paradromics Inc. not normal for a brain implant,” he said.

Before implanting the device in Arbaugh, a quadriplegic, Neuralink tested the device extensively on animals. One potential problem, however, is that because animals’ brains are smaller, the electrodes don’t shift as much as they do in humans, Leuthard said.

The report comes as Neuralink looks to implant its device in more people. Any malfunctions can cause delays in the FDA approval process.

© 2024 Bloomberg LP

Affiliate links may be automatically generated – see our ethics statement for details.